Sahlberg on ITE: great report, but don’t hold your breath

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08 August 2014 by Mark Langhammer
The stage 2 review of initial teacher training infrastructure in Northern Ireland, led by the Finnish educator and scholar Dr Pasi Sahlberg, was published at the beginning of July. It reports that the Northern Ireland system falls short of international best practice in many respects.

The stage 1 report examined the financial sustainability of teacher training institutions and provided the context to look at the infrastructure of initial teacher education in the North.

This stage 2 report has much to commend it, notably the explicit acceptance that initial preparation of teachers as a phase in a career long process of continuing professional development.

The report sets out international best practice, stresses the importance of intellectual underpinning of provision and the need for practice focussed teacher education based on relevant educational research:

“In our view, teacher education needs to be strengthened academically and cognitively. Provision has not yet been sufficiently infused with the intellectual power which university involvement in teacher education makes possible. That intellectual power derives from the universities research activities. Like any other field of human behaviour, teaching requires a continual pursuit of fresh ways of conceptualising, innovative approaches to professional action, and more sophisticated appraisals of how human learning is to be facilitated.”

The review panel recommended four options for future provision.

  1. Enhanced collaborative partnership between all four existing providers. This, essentially, is the “shared education” option.
  2. A "two centre" model, with provision in Belfast built on the existing partnership between Queens University and St Mary’s and Stranmillis Colleges; the other based in the North West and led by the University of Ulster.
  3. A Teacher Education Federation of all current providers, with significant strategic responsibility ceded to the centre.
  4. A single Northern Ireland Institute of Education, a wholly integrated provider with a single budget employing a single set of academic and support staff.

The report was welcomed by the minister for employment and learning, Dr Stephen Farry, in his  1 July statement to the Assembly.

ATL fully welcomes Sahlberg’s report as a breath of fresh air but, given the record of the Executive and Assembly in agreeing even simple administrative matters in education, we caution members not to expect too much, too soon.

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